What Lies Beneath

Some may consider embellishing details on a CV in order to paint a brighter picture of our education and experience an acceptable and usual practice. Everyone does it, right? But what about changing your 2:2 to a 2:1? Is that just a little white lie?

Fraud as a criminal offence came into existence as a result of the Fraud Act 2006. It replaced the old “deception” offences which were fraught with practical and technical problems and made them unsatisfactory and unworkable.

The new offence of fraud and its ancillary offences are much broader in their application and can cover a wide range of behaviours.

Several offences are of particular relevance to those who might believe that embellishing their CV is not that big of a deal. You may be surprised to realise what kind of behaviour is punishable and what punishments can be exacted.

Fraud by False Representation

The first offence relevant to CV-embellishers is fraud by false representation.

A person is guilty of this offence if they dishonestly make a false representation and they intend by making that representation to make a gain for themselves or another or to cause a loss to another or expose another to a risk of loss.

A representation is “false” if it is untrue or misleading and the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

What does this mean for those looking to embellish their CV?

If you submit a CV to an employer or agency and you claim – for instance – to hold a degree which you do not, then you have commit fraud by false representation.

It does not matter if you have not been offered the job or are yet to receive a salary; the crime is committed the moment the representation is made. That moment could be when it is read by a HR manager, or when it is submitted to an electronic recruitment system.

The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment and a fine. Yes, TEN years!

Possessing, Making or Supplying Articles for Use in Frauds

The second offence relevant to CV-embellishers is making or supplying articles for use in frauds.

A person is guilty of an this offence if they make, adapt, supply, or offer any article which they know is designed or adapted for use in a fraud or that it is intended the article will be used to commit or assist in the commission of a fraud.

A third offence exists: possession of articles for use in frauds.

A person is guilty of this offence if they have in their possession or under their control any article for use in the course of or connection with any fraud.

Article includes any program or data held in electronic format.

What does this mean for those looking to embellish their CV?

It means that if you make a CV on a computer (“data held in an electronic format”) which contains false information with the intention of committing fraud, then you have committed the offence. Possessing a CV created by another which is to be used for fraud also constitutes the offence.

So combining this with what we have learned above about fraud, if you have crafted an embellished CV and you intend to submit it to a HR department or agency tomorrow, then you have committed both offences.

The maximum penalty for the making articles offence is 10 years imprisonment and a fine and for possessing articles is 5 years imprisonment and a fine.

Have there been any prosecutions, or is this just legal theory?

Kerrie Devine was an employee of East Devon Primary Care Trust until it was dissolved in 2003-2006. It was reformed as Devon PCT and, as a result of the dissolution, existing staff had to re-apply for their positions. During the re-application, qualifications were checked and it was found that Kerrie Devine did not hold the qualifications she claimed to.

An investigation, headed by the NHS Counter Fraud Service, resulted in a successful prosecution under s.2 of the Fraud Act 2006 (fraud by false representation).

She was given a six-month suspended sentence, ordered to pay £9,600 in compensation, and was ordered to do 150 hours community service.

What was interesting about this case is that she had been hired under the pretence of holding qualifications that she did not and she held the post for many years before the fraud came to light.

This demonstrates two important points when considering new and existing staff:

  1. The importance of education verification for new staff as a method of mitigating the risk of fraud (primary checks)
  2. The importance of education verification for existing staff as a method of mitigating the continuation of fraud (secondary checks)

The story of Kerrie Devine, a person who managed to land a very senior role within the NHS through fraud, is a story which employers should take note of. If it can happen within the NHS, it can happen to your organisation.

If the East Devon PCT had not dissolved and employees not had to re-apply for roles, the fraud could have continued indefinitely.

Conclusions

There are many behaviours caught under degree fraud. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Claiming to have a degree that you do not
  2. Claiming your classification is higher than it actually is (e.g. 2.1 instead of a 2.2)
  3. Claiming that your study dates are or year of graduation is different from what they are
  4. Claiming that your degree is of a different type than it actually is (e.g. “Law” instead of “History”; “Master of Arts” instead of “Bachelor of Arts”)

Fraud is a highly under-reported crime. If it wasn’t for the NHS’s dedicated fraud team – the NHS Counter Fraud Service – it is unlikely that this case of degree fraud would have reached trial and successfully prosecuted. However, as awareness of the issue becomes more widespread, both reporting and prosecutions will become more common.

From an employer’s perspective, it is prudent to protect yourself from the risk of degree fraud by conducting proper and through checks on new and existing staff. Degree fraud is serious business. If it can happen in the NHS, it can happen to you. Although there appears to be no reported damage in the case above, the NHS is in a better position than small-to-medium sized enterprises to absorb the damage and reputation loss caused by a bad hire – can you honestly say you are in the same position?

From a candidates perspective, although in a competitive market, you may feel that claiming to have a first class rather than a 2.2 might give you an advantage when it comes to applying for jobs, sooner or later the fraud will be exposed and the consequences could be far worse than simply not landing that perfect position. It will most certainly be the end of your professional career with that employer or industry, and may even lead to loss of your liberty.

Little white lies aren’t such a little deal!


For the full text of the Fraud Act 2006, visit:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/35/contents

For the CIPD press release on Kerrie Devine, visit:

http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/01/29/hr-manager-sentenced-for-lying-about-qualifications-2010-01.aspx

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